Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

How to Weight Links?

Upon reflection, the post turned out a bit boring and I almost didn’t post it. But a promise is a promise. Click here if you’re excited by the issue of weighting links.


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Don’t read too much into this…

…Comedy Central is running an all-Sandler Saturday Night Live Marathon. At this very moment, they are playing an episode hosted by Heston, and the skit is The President is Illiterate. The opening bit:

“Wanna have some fun?”…”When President Dexter [Heston] gets here, let’s tell him this is Senator Powell’s Education Bill”

“Oh come on, Ted. This is a menu from a Chinese restaurant.”

Hilarity ensues.


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Links Updated

Welcome to Gary Hart, Mad Prophet, Punning Pundit, India West, and Trivial Pursuits. All are good, but I particularly recommend the last two.


UPDATE: I’m about half way to my second cell (to see my ranking, it’s easiest to do a “ctrl-f” and search for “angry bear”), keep the links coming! Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how an economist might improve on the ranking system that N.Z Bear devised.

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Shorter John Kerry

In this case it’s shortened so that more people will read it, not because the full text is long and rambling. Go read the whole thing. The elipses and emphasis are mine

April 5, 2003 | I don’t think it gets better in public life, and certainly not in mine, than to be introduced by my brother, Max Cleland…when I think about Max Cleland saying something about Hemingway and grace under pressure as he just did I think all of you should join me in sharing the sense that this man, who left three limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam for this country, deserves better than what the Republican Party gave him in the last election here in Georgia…every day in the course of my race for the presidency of the United States I will be motivated — and I ask you to help me be motivated — to hold them accountable for what they did to Max Cleland.

…But let me just share today something I feel very strongly about, because today I had the pleasure of having Tom DeLay, Denny Hastert, and a score of other Republicans come out of the woodwork to attack me for speaking out regarding the direction of our country when I spoke up in New Hampshire yesterday.

I think that Max who served with me and many who have served share with me this belief: I don’t need any lessons in patriotism or caring about America from the likes of Tom DeLay and the right wing, whose motivations can be questioned…Tom DeLay, hear me loud and clear: I speak out for America, not for politics, and as long as I have air in my lungs I will continue to speak my mind.

…We made a sacred bond with these men and women when we asked them to risk their lives for their country. And this administration has failed to hold up its side of the bargain. Just as we wouldn’t think of sending our military into battle without the uniforms and equipment they need, we shouldn’t neglect to care for our troops and their families before, during, and after the war. Yet, 20 percent of our Reservists and their families don’t have healthcare coverage.

And at the same time that American soldiers are engaged in battle at home, this administration is proposing substantial cuts in federal school aid to children of military families. As we learned the hard way after Vietnam, our duty to our troops doesn’t end when the battle is won. Those that put their lives on the line have earned a lifetime of support. And America must live up to that commitment.

Yet, two months ago, this administration announced it would suspend enrollment in the healthcare system of at least 160,000 qualified veterans. And now they want to deny another 230,000 veterans the healthcare they deserve.

…And I say to Tom DeLay, one thing I know about America is that in the face of war there are things more important than cutting taxes and it is wrong to reward the wealthiest Americans before we fulfill our solemn obligations to those that have served.

Of course, Kerry would be running against George Bush, not Tom DeLay, in 2004.

Like others, I have this sort of visceral Dukakis reaction to the idea of another Massachusetts “liberal” atop the ticket. But I do like to see speeches like this, and who knows, I could even grow to like John Kerry. Put Kerry and Clark on a ticket together (the veteran and a general against the AWOL pilot and never-served Cheney) and the Republicans will have something to fear.


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Smoking Ban Update

Some good comments on my earlier smoking ban post. So I did a bit of Googling and I found this Reason article (Reason is a Libertarian/Objectivist magazine). The Reason article does a good job of showing why this result makes no sense. For example,

The American Heart Association attributes 35,000 heart disease deaths a year, about 5 percent of the total, to secondhand smoke. It seems reasonable to assume that the proportion would be similar for heart attacks, fatal or not. So even if a city completely eliminated secondhand smoke (which Helena’s ban did not do, since it did not apply to smoking at home), how could that possibly cut heart attacks in half?”

If you want the details of the methodology the doctors used, the Reason article also links to the authors’ Power Point slides.


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Rumsfeld’s statements on Iran and Syria are a few days old now, but in case you missed them, here’s one:

“These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts, and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments,” Rumsfeld said.

And there are others–Condoleezza Rice and John Bolton (undersecretary of state for arms control)–in the administration intimating that Iran is next.

Now former CIA chief James Woolsey says we’re at the start of World War IV (The Cold War was WWIII in his view). According to CNN’s story (I can’t find the transcript of the speech) Woolsey apparently argues that we’re actually at war against three countries: Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Here’s a cheeful quote from Woolsey:

“This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.”

Here is his message for recalcitrant regimes:

“We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you — the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family — most fear: We’re on the side of your own people.”

So maybe the order is Iraq, then Iran and Syria, then Egypt, and then Saudi Arabia. The problem is that If we use our military might to install true democracy in all of these countries, who do you think their citizens will then elect? The neocons say that in a surge of freedom and gratitude, they will elect pro-Western leaders. But it could just as easily go the other way–countries whose citizens already dislike the US may be even more anti-West after Woolsey’s WWIV and, being democracies, elect leaders who act in ways consistent with the (anti-American) will of the people. Are we then prepared to accept the actions of those democracies when they go against US interests? The reactions in the US to recent actions by Turkey, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, Canada and Mexico, suggest not.


UPDATE: Matt’s got a bit on this too.

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You Almost Have to Admire…

…such single-minded (or simple-minded?) devotion:

“Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes,” the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, blithely told CongressDaily.

From a NY Times editorial yesterday.


For the “more important” category, might I suggest winning? Fewer casualties? Paying for the war?

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You must take a look at this picture.

As Digby would say, this picture is “Another example of why homeschooling by idiots is a very bad idea”.

I could make some point about how it’s logically incorrect to take the dumbest or most extreme member of a group and project their idiocy onto the entire group. But if I did that, Republicans wouldn’t be able to use Noam Chomsky to attack all Democrats. No, it must be the case that because this guy is a moron, we can safely conclude that all pro-war protesters are idiots.


UPDATE. Perhaps his “Get A Brain! Morans” poster was really a bold progressive statement against all the Jim Moran’s of the world. As you may recall, in early March, Representative Jim Moran insinuated that Jews–Elders of Zion??–were directing the war on Iraq. Moran’s a Democrat from Virginia. See, we’ve got idiots, too. Just not nearly as many.

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More Bad News

Just yesterday, I said that unemployment increases tend to follow slowdowns in the manufacturing sector. Now today, the new unemployment figures are out and they are worse than expected (coming in at 445,000 instead of the anticipated 410,000 new jobless claims). In this case, these numbers are related to past slowness in the manufacturing sector; what yesterday’s news about drops in orders for both durable and non-durable goods means is that there’s likely more bad unemployment news to come.

Both pieces of news combine to make an interest rate cut by the Fed, perhaps even an inter-session cut, much more likely. But I’m not sure that more cuts will do much. Interest rates are already very low by historical standards–business don’t need to invest when they are not using, and do not expect to soon use, current capacity. That leaves the consumer sector, where interest rates primarily affect housing and car purchases. On Monday, General Motors rolled out 0% financing on most models, and Ford also stepped up its incentives. Others are likely to follow. But can this have a big effect? Zero-percent and other very attractive terms have been around for some time now, so these new deals might be expected to keep the industry about where it has been for the last two years, but are unlikely to provide a big lift.

And the same is true for housing: interest rates have been low for so long that the number of households in the market for a new house is unlikely to jump substantially in response to a mortgage rate decrease (the refinance business would benefit, however). Moreover, a Fed rate cut may not even affect mortgage rates, as they are driven in large part by expectations of future inflation. What makes people expect future inflation? Large federal deficits are one important factor.


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If it Sounds to Good to be True

Then it probably is. Kevin Drum (CalPundit) points to a CNN story, Study: Smoking ban cuts heart attacks; Trend shows heart attacks down by half. Here’s the big quote from the story:

Now, about eight months after Dr. Richard Sargent first noticed the trend, both doctors are saying their data shows heart attacks in Helena fell by more than half last summer after voters passed the ban.

Clearly, cutting heart attacks in half would be a tremendous health benefit, both in terms of quality of life, length of life, and health care expenditures. But of course there’s a catch: the authors of the study were also long-time backers of the smoking band in Helena. Kevin points out that the CNN story says that Helena, population 26,000, may be too small a sample from which to draw definitive conclusions. And the CNN story goes on to quote the author of the study as saying “This is a tiny, little community in the middle of nowhere. This study needs to be replicated in New York City.”

Kevin points out that we don’t need to wait:

But why New York? California has had a statewide indoor smoking ban for years, so there ought to be plenty of data available. And since it’s statewide, you don’t have to worry about the possibility that smokers all just “went outside city limits” to light up.

As it turns out, California data are readily available on the web. I thought that if the result were true, economists would have already written papers on the subject and if not then I should probably do so. So I took a quick look and found that there was no noticeable change in California’s rate of heart attacks after the smoking ban started:


Hospital Discharges for
“Heart Failure and Shock”
(DRG 127)

Hospital Discharges for
“Heart Failure and Shock”
(DRG 127),
as a percent of total discharges.










The ban in California took effect on January 1, 1998, so if the results from Montana are credible then there should surely be an effect in California in 1998, but there were actually a bit over 5,000 more hospital admissions for heart attacks in 1998 than 1997. Is some of that population growth? Perhaps, but heart attacks as a percentage of hospital admissions also increased in 1998 (note: a death counts as a “discharge”, so discharges are essentially equivalent to admissions). California heart attacks fell from 1998 to 1999, but not back to their 1997 (pre-ban) levels–measured either in the number of attacks or attacks as a percentage of discharges.

So what could account for the Helena result? It may simply not be true. Alternatively, the ban lasted from June to December, so it may be that heart attacks are historically lower in that period for some reason. To check this, the doctors should compare the June-December heart attack rate in 2002 to the rate for the same period in 2001. Another story: It might be the result of random statistical variation. Or maybe a new Bally’s opened. But, at least in California, there was no pronounced effect on heart attacks following the smoking ban.

On the other hand, if you smoke you should quit anyway.


UPDATE: The Montana story is spreading fast (Google News finds 115 relevant hits). The numbers were actually first released yesterday (Tuesday, 4/1/2003), a somewhat suspicious (or perhaps inauspicious) release date for such “big” news.

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